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Lakers eliminated, but Howard debate just beginning

The Lakers’ immediate issue is whether to move forward with Dwight Howard after being swept by the Spurs. Does Howard re-up for $118 million after what he called a “nightmare” season after Sunday’s yet another blowout loss? Does he take off and sign for $88 million as a free agent?
"Does he re-up for $118 million after what he called a “nightmare” season after Sunday’s yet another blowout loss?" writes Sam Smith of Howard. "Does he take off and sign for $88 million as a free agent? Though that’s one season less and presumably he’ll play more than four more years."
(D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

Well, at least that was a short Lakers’ dynasty this time.

Unfortunately, that hardly absolves us from having to hear about the Lakers’ woes and future as if they are a serious player. Anyway, with still another four-game playoff sweep loss—and few supposedly elite franchises have as many—the Lakers’ immediate issue is whether to move forward with Dwight Howard and then a lesser concern, at least for us, is their pending $85 million luxury tax penalty if they do and pretty much stay as they are.

With the kids in charge now and splitting profit and losses after the death of Jerry Buss, it seems certain the potential luxury tax penalty will be a prime concern. With these things, eventually some of the heirs want their money instead of watching a sibling run the team. So that could be an issue in the years to come. No one knows that one. But we do know first about Howard. Does he re-up for $118 million after what he called a “nightmare” season after Sunday’s yet another blowout loss? Does he take off and sign for $88 million as a free agent? Though that’s one season less and presumably he’ll play more than four more years. Or does he take the money and have the Lakers trade him somewhere no one is paying much attention and he can continue his clown act in relative private?

If Howard resigns, figure the Lakers trade Pau Gasol and his approximately $20 million salary to one of many teams with salary cap room to absorb the money and seeking an instant boost, like the Cavs, Pistons or Bobcats. That also enables the team to hold their free agent money for a better class in 2014 with Gasol having one year left. Of course, maybe you’d prefer to be bad with a potentially terrific draft class in 2014.

Then there’s Howard and his preference. You can be sure step 2 for Houston’s grand plan is to acquire Howard in a sign and trade for the likes of basically everyone on the roster but James Harden. Would Howard like to try in Houston with a star perimeter player? Or maybe just go home to Atlanta and play with childhood buddies Josh Smith and Lou Williams and get back to playing childhood pranks where no one is paying attention. That would require the smaller contract, but the Hawks certainly would make it up on the back end with a later deal. That’s right. We’re just beginning on this story.

Nuggets not admired like they used to be

-- Remember when the “Denver model” was the rage of NBA executives? You don’t need the selfish star. You put together a well rounded deep team with size and shooting and outwork them. Well, that was last week until the Warriors’ Stephen Curry got loose and is shooting the Nuggets out of the playoffs with a 3-1 series lead after a 22-point almost Nate Robinson-like third quarter Sunday. Denver coach George Karl, who is expected to win Coach of the Year, does have a reputation of over-preparing for the playoffs and over-thinking and making his team a bit uptight. So you wondered watching Sunday night as the Warriors shredded Denver’s trap early with the basically unguarded Andrew Bogut and then in Denver’s panic to get back to Curry lost all the perimeter guys as the Nuggets got themselves also lured into the Warriors’ smaller game. Which should change Andre Iguodala’s mind about opting out of his $16 million contract. Is that someone in Denver I see with fingers crossed? Kenneth Faried kicked in the locker room door afterward and earlier in the day JaVale McGee went shopping at Marshall’s and hid tickets to the game for fans to find as he later put on Twitter about the treasure hunt. Marshall’s?

Jackson leading Warriors past Nuggets

-- Maybe the new motivation is not screaming at these guys like Bear Bryant but ministering to them with inspiring talk like Mark Jackson. Jackson’s Warriors are on the verge of the biggest first round upset of and it was another classic huddle the TV cameras recorded with Jackson telling his team how he wished he could suit up and play with them the way they were playing. Sure beats the “Get back” and “Hustle” stuff in most huddles that gets you thinking, “You mean that’s what they’re telling them!” And, “I can’t coach?” Then after the game in response to some like Magic Johnson on TV now declaring Curry an All Star, Jackson retorted: “Well, those guys are just coming to the hospital. The baby has been born already." Jackson also said he told the team coming into the playoffs: “I talked to my team before the playoffs and my message to them was simple: 'Keep a fresh cut.' You want to make sure your haircut looks good because when we continue to do what we've talked about doing, the media room will be filled, articles will be written and people will be talking about you." They lose David Lee and he’s making Andrew Bogut look like he cares about basketball. He must be doing something.

Milwaukee’s Jennings struggles against Heat

-- Well, that was a bold goodbye if that’s it for interim coach Jim Boylan in Milwaukee. He benched Brandon Jennings for the fourth quarter and much of the second half in what had been a close game until the end as the Heat swept the Bucks even as teammates seemed to be asking for Jennings to return. "He's a good player and I believe in him," Larry Sanders said afterward of Jennings. "I knew he would give it all out on the floor. They made a decision and they decided to make it. It upset me a little bit, but you've got to keep pushing." Jennings, of course, was awful in the playoffs as Boylan does know basketball. He shot 29.8 percent and 21 percent on threes, and we know he doesn’t pass the ball. He didn’t get an extension before the season and talked about being a max player, which I assume means he’s changing his name to Max. The Bucks have to hope someone wants to give him an offer as a restricted free agent and they can do a sign and trade somewhere.

NBA news and notes

-- Who is this Andrew Bogut, who got a face full of dunk from McGee earlier in the series and has come back with a vengeance to the point Nuggets coach Karl sees himself in Bogut. "A lot of times we as coaches say little things win playoff games," said Karl. "He (Bogut) does a lot of little things out there. Sets illegal screens. Pushes guys around. Tries to taunt and flaunt, a little bit like how I used to play, though I wasn't 7-1."… Isiah Thomas on NBA TV said he could see the Knicks/Celtics series going to a seventh game the way the Celtics veterans have been awakened, in part with the Knicks’ self promotional antics, J.R. Smith’s cheap shot suspension and Carmelo Anthony back to his, Is anyone else on the court game. The Celtics overcame 3-1 deficits in 1968 and 1981, but, yes, this would be 3-0. … There’s maybe no coach who’s ever been a better communicator than Doc Rivers, who perfectly summed up his $25,000 fine for some curious calls on Kevin Garnett in Game 3: “I didn’t get fined for being wrong. I got fined because I said it.”… After averaging 25 minutes in the regular season, Courtney Lee has mostly fallen out of the Boston rotation playing 35 minutes in the first four games. Similarly, Richard Hamilton for the Bulls as Hamilton as well has been a supportive teammate.

-- Though not as bad as Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis was brutal as well in the sweep, averaging 14.3 points, including seven points in Games 2 and 3, and shooting 15.8 percent on threes. We know nobody called them the best shooting backcourt ever. … It only took the Hawks two games to notice Kyle Korver couldn’t defend Paul George as the Hawks went to a bigger lineup in Game 3 with Josh Smith at small forward (I know going with Johan Petro doesn’t seem that obvious) and blew out the Pacers in Game 3. … At the Cavs press conference for new/old coach Mike Brown as owner Dan Gilbert consulted the old New York Yankees George Steinbrenner managing hiring handbook, Gilbert was asked by a reporter: "Are you saying the elephant in the room did not enter into your thinking at all in this hire?" That, of course, was the local media refusing to tamper, either, asking about LeBron James’ apparent imminent return. To play for the guys they fired so he’d stay? Of course, Gilbert couldn’t say much of anything, but it is becoming something of a zoo. … Did ESPN get rid of all those guys writing about Miami? You hardly hear anymore about one of the more amazing runs as the Heat has won 41 of their last 43 games after the sweep of the Bucks and 20 of their last 21 road games. Is the league that bad or are they that good?

-- Amid the Lakers’ mess, Antawn Jamison became a forgotten guy and would be a heck of a pickup if he goes for a minimum salary again this summer. … Well, there probably goes Tom Izzo’s pro coaching chance. The Bobcats fired the latest “college coach,” Mike Dunlap, after one season. Yes, 21 wins is not great. But last season they had seven (in 66 games). Dunlap did aid the development of Kemba Walker, but it turns out Michael Jordan became a softie. The players in closing interviews basically said Dunlap was too tough and mean and yelled at them too much. He’s supposedly a bit on the pedantic side and did have some four-hour practices, which doesn’t suit your Tyrus Thomas types well. The message Dunlap said he got coming in was to clean up the lack of discipline and that Jordan constantly counseled him to be more aggressive and demanding. It is what Jordan as owner wanted. And you know Jordan as owner probably hates today’s players. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be looking for his fifth coach since 2007. From saying the players were too greedy in labor negotiations last year to this, Jordan is certainly an owner now in accepting the players do run the league and he apparently gave in. … It was actually a pretty good series for the player who calls himself “the last remaining Mamba,” the Red Mamba, the always amusing Spurs Matt Bonner, who played annoying fly to Dwight Howard in the Spurs sweep. As Bonner likes to say, he’s from the mean streets of Concord, New Hampshire. … I’m not counting the Thunder out quite yet without Russell Westbrook as Kevin Durant should be shooting more, anyway. How does he shoot less all season than Westbrook? Perhaps Serge Ibaka, a good shooter, will finally get to play as Westbrook never did figure out who he was. … As for that Patrick Beverly foul that knocked out Westbrook. Probably not a dirty play as guys sometimes fake that timeout call and go, like Rajon Rondo liked to do. But it should at least have been a foul. Said Kevin McHale about Beverly: “Patrick's a tough little guy. He plays hard. He competes. It didn't take bumping knees with Russell to get excited. He plays excited in practice. He's just hard-working, really a nice kid. In December, he was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and now he's starting in a playoff game. It's a pretty cool story for him. He's a great young man. He's a tough, tough little guy from Chicago (Marshall and a noted trash talker). He's going to fight you for it.”

-- Interesting observation from Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri: "It started with Derrick Rose in Chicago last season. Rajon Rondo got hurt in Boston. Kobe Bryant for Los Angeles. And now Westbrook. What is going on? I thought our medical technology and training was getting better."… Nice nickname for shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson being called the “Splash Brothers” in the Bay Area after the old A’s Bash Brothers of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, though they don’t want the similarities to go too far. … Everyone mentioned Jerry West and Gail Goodrich when Mark Jackson, who if you heard him on TV know he loves the attention grabbing phrase, said they were the best ever shooting combo. George Karl came up with a good one in Oscar Robertson and Adrian Smith, the latter an All-Star Game MVP. … He’s not a rebounder, but it’s an indictment on Chris Paul as well, especially the way he doesn’t much act aggressively until late in games, the way the Grizzlies without any perimeter shooting have overrun the Clippers the last two games. Blake Griffin has shown up to be somewhat passive, though Matt Barnes was, as usual, more direct: "They been punking us, basically. If we keep this up we'll be home next week, and that's the bottom line. From top to bottom, our team has been punked. There's no scouting report or adjustment. If we don't start playing like men, we're going to be sitting on the beach." Paul, of all things, complained about the Memphis fans, saying, "I wouldn't let my wife and kid come because of how disrespectful they are here. I didn't want to come back here by any means.” Paul averaged just 13.5 points and five assists in the two losses in Memphis.

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